September 30, 2016

Owning Our Choices: The Power Within

Blogger Galen Pearl is is one of my favorite writers. She is also a very good friend to Betty and me. So, I wasn't surprised when I asked her to write a guest post and she quickly agreed. You probably know her from the 10 Steps To Finding Your Happy Place blog, or her latest effort, No Way Cafe.

Here is her insight on an important satisfying retirement topic: choice. I look forward to your comments.

“I have no choice!” Recently, several people spoke these words to me while describing situations that were causing them deep distress. The situations were very different, but in each case, my first thought was, “Of course you have a choice.”

In one situation, for example, the parents were in despair over an adult child who was still living at home. Not an unusual scenario these days. But the adult child was not making any effort to find work or otherwise contribute to the household. On the contrary, she took over the living room, falling asleep on the couch watching TV till late at night, then screaming at her parents for waking her in the morning as they were getting ready to go to work.  

I’m not telling the story as a critique of their parenting style. What struck me about the story was the parents' perception that they had no choice but to suffer under the tyranny of a child who, if evicted, might end up in danger, or might, out of anger, distance herself from the family. The parents saw themselves as helpless and powerless victims of circumstances rather than as a people who were making a choice.

That story is a dramatic example, but there are other, less obvious, more mundane examples. I’m thinking of my mother who lived a full and blessed life, but who, in her later years, frequently said, “Aging is a bitch.” So succinct! Now that I am among the aging, I hear her words repeated in countless variations among my peers, often with a sense of resignation, sometimes bitterness, or even anger, but always with a sense of helplessness. Yet when questioned, the folks expressing this view frequently identify reasons that are based in choice.

Marianne Williamson wrote that our deepest fear is not that we are powerless. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

One of the greatest powers we have is the power to choose. Yet this is a power we are so quick to abdicate. Why would we prefer to be powerless rather than own our choices? Because owning our choices means accepting responsibility for their consequences. We are no longer a victim, and there is no longer someone or something to blame. It is tremendously liberating and scary, all at the same time.

Bob posted an excellent article on this blog about five things successful retirees do well. As I looked for a theme in these five things, what became apparent to me was that the attributes Bob identified all involve recognizing our power to make choices, and then consciously making choices that enhance our well being and the well being of others.

Just recognizing that we have a choice, regardless of which path we choose, can be beneficial. When my friend with the difficult adult child could see that she really had a choice, she was able to examine the reasons she was making the choice to let her child stay. Once she owned her choice, she felt more at peace. And more willing to explore other choices in the future.

The subtitle of this blog is “Passionate About Living a Retired life with Purpose & Joy.” Passion, purpose, and joy all come from within ourselves, from claiming our power to choose, and owning the choices we make.

Next time you hear yourself think or say “I have no choice,” look a little deeper. I bet you’ll find one hiding somewhere, waiting for you.

I could choose to see this differently. ~A Course in Miracles

Thank you, Galen. You have shown us a potential for positive change that too many of us have a tendency to overlook. 

September 24, 2016

I've Changed my opinion about....

......The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Now, before you shoot daggers at me, I will add that the system we had before Obamacare was a dismal failure, too. Sick people were denied coverage. Life-saving tests were unaffordable for many. Insurance companies could decide a treatment was not warranted and people would die. Those without employer-provided policies who didn't have any dreaded "pre-existing conditions"  faced back-breaking premiums, deductibles, and limitations. Bankruptcies happened.

So, where are we? The unfettered for-profit system prior to 2010 was a train wreck. The ACA is headed to a future where premiums are too expensive to pay because competition has disappeared. Health care companies have figured out they are better off walking away from customers if they are too sick. The fines for not have health coverage are so low that many younger people are better off paying the penalty rather than hundreds of dollars a month for coverage with huge deductibles and a tiny network of providers. Some states have only one company in their health exchange. That is a guarantee for failure.

Some will argue the answer is obvious: make Medicare an option for everyone. The system works. There is fraud, sure, but there is fraud in the private model, too. There is fraud in Social Security but I've never met anyone who wants that essential service terminated. Heavens, there are billions of dollars of waste and fraud in the Pentagon, but we must have a defense system.

With tens of millions of additional customers and no more need for subsidies,  the government could afford to increase what is paid to providers. Drug price negotiation would become standard practice. Medicare has few exclusions and even fewer limits on coverage. Those who need it could get it.

I think there would still have to be some form of private option. We are just too independent and fearful of total government control to make Medicare the only health insurer. The insurance companies would be happier because the healthier people would probably choose a private company, allowing for lower premiums and a decent share of the market. Medicare Advantage programs and Medigap policies would still be available.

Obamacare was pushed through a very reluctant Congress. The law was massive, poorly written, and based on conclusions that have not come true. As structured it will not survive much longer. But, if it collapses do all the people who were unable to get insurance before, or excluded from life-saving procedures, get tossed under the bus again?

Like a few other hot button topics in today's America, health care remains a subject whose mere mention can trigger more heat than light. I really hesitated to write this post for fear of a tsunami of "I told you so" or "this political party or that does or does not have any answers."

The point of this post is actually more of admitting that changing one's opinion about something important can be admitted publicly. Humans change their minds and change their opinions on a regular basis. But, I am convinced that too often we refuse to admit those changes for fear of what others may say and think.

So, I am putting myself on the line here by saying I have changed my mind about the Affordable Care Act's ability to solve our healthcare problems.

I trust you to not throw me to the wolves.

Want to learn more?

Top Healthcare Issues This Year

Can Obamacare Survive?

September 21, 2016

An Average Life? Aim Higher

Average means ordinary or usual. Average is what many people aspire to be. Don’t rock the boat, don’t stand out, don’t make waves. I’m guessing you want more. You want each day to be special, to mean something. You’d like your life to follow a path that you create.

Here’s the answer: ignore common wisdom. Just forget it. Common is average. Your life can be more by being different. Here are 4 ways to break from the pack and create a satisfying retirement lifestyle that is under your control.

1) Short cuts usually get you lost. Too many people figure they know how to get something for nothing. Hard work is for suckers. The path to glory and greatness lies through other's efforts or money. Don’t bother perfecting your skills. Don’t waste time learning what you need to know. Look for the easy way. Look for the shortcut. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the forest with no way out.

There are no shortcuts on the road to a non-average life. You have to want it enough to work hard for it. You accept there is no way to bypass the effort involved. You see the sign for the shortcut, and choose the other path.

2) Experts often know less than you. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be better than what you think or believe. You would be wise to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best.

Bunk. An expert is often self-declared. He may have no track record or experience to have earned that label. She has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Consider that maybe you are the best expert there is in figuring what is right for you. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself.

3) Newer isn’t always better. We upgrade, replace, or redo out of boredom with the old. Commercials have convinced us our life will be a whole lot better with the latest whatever. Newer is always better. Our clothes will be whiter, our teeth brighter, and our home life more pleasant.

Not true. Today’s appliances are made to fail, whereas the stuff from 20 years ago would last forever. Computers will work just fine years after Microsoft wants you to upgrade to a new OS that makes all your drivers obsolete. With decent care, your car can easily go 125,000 or more and be fully paid for. To resist the constant call to buy what is new and improved takes above average will power.

4) You can’t spend your way out of debt. This is not what our consumer society wants you to do. The average American household spends 133% of what it earned. I’d suggest there is a very direct correlation between that fact and the recession of not that many years ago. Our entire way of life is built on credit, for housing, cars, education, giant TVs, vacations…everything. Sometimes credit is helpful and necessary. Few of us can buy a home with cash in our pocket.

The problem arises when we attempt to fund our day-to-day lives with credit we can’t pay back. Your life is out of your control. Decisions you make are predicated on how you can balance this bill against that credit card, against that obligation. Your entire lifestyle can collapse overnight if you lose your job. The solution is so obvious it seems almost silly to say it. But, with the average American household having total credit card debt of $16,000, apparently not.

You were made to be more than average. You have the potential to excel and exceed expectations. It just takes above average will power, determination, and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Ban good enough from your vocabulary.

September 18, 2016

Adult Coloring Books

Color me surprised. 

Last year over 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the United States. There are coloring books for adults in bookstores, craft shops, and on-line. There are adult coloring clubs, Facebook groups, and Instagram pages. Groups gather for community and conversation with coloring groups in most cities across the country. If this is a fad, it is a pretty healthy one. 

Frankly, I was completely in the dark about adult coloring books, until a few month ago when my daughters showed me some of the beautiful art work they had created. I was given a few pages to try. While the results don't make me a Van Gogh, I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't look terrible. Of course, like paint-by-numbers, it is pretty hard to make serious mistakes when what you are doing is coloring in open spaces. But, choosing the colors that go together is, well, artistic! I did find it enjoyable to focus on the page and shut off all other thoughts for awhile. 

So, I started to do some research. Google responded with almost two million search results. Heavens, this is a big deal! I am learning that all sorts of people color and for a whole range of reasons: relaxation, meditation-like calmness, or following a long suppressed artistic urge.

Serious medical folks claim coloring can have therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety and help someone focus. A story in the Washington Post recounted the story of a woman who found coloring helped her deal with the grief of losing her infant son. She needed something different than just words and prayers to help her. The story also includes a reference to a woman who used the process of coloring to help her with confidence in controlling hand tremors.

While I didn't find a direct connection between adult coloring book users and someone who is has an artistic streak, I would think that isn't such a large leap. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way and her latest, it's Never Too Late To Begin Again, deals with the subject of being a shadow artist. To her, that is someone who sees him or herself as an artist but life took them in another direction. Maybe coloring with pencils and markers helps satisfy that need.

Recently, Timber Press  sent me three adult coloring books to review. I have yet to put ink to paper, but I did find them interesting. They are alittle different from other adult coloring books I have seen. These include background information about the subject of the page and the names of what you will be coloring. One of the book contains several blank pages after each section so it is possible to add one's own sketches and then color them in.

I'd be interested if you take part in this activity, or know someone who does. August 2nd was National Coloring Book Day. I missed the celebration, but may be joining the crowd now.

Satisfying Retirement was provided with the coloring books at no cost, and for review purposes only.

September 15, 2016

On The RV Road Again

As I write this, we have just arrived in Oklahoma City. After leaving home on Monday, September 5th, we have driven 960 miles, stopped in 7 different towns, and had a tremendous time. With about 6 weeks to go on our RV trip, we are adding experiences, memories, and photos to our satisfying retirement.

Unlike previous trips, we are keeping most travel days to only 3 hours on the road. That means less wear and tear on the driver (me!) and allows us to arrive at our new destination by early afternoon. There is plenty of time to get things set up, relax, and see any local sights that grab our attention.

Normally, we will stay for just one night in smaller towns, and then two nights in areas with more to see. With careful planning this has meant extra time in the bigger towns of Albuquerque, Amarillo, and now, OKC. 

Frankly, we could spend much longer in each place, but we have family visits built around certain timing that means this is the best setup for now. On the return trip from Tennessee we can be much more flexible in how long we choose to stay in a particular town. Betty has already suggested we change our route home to go through 5 additional states so we can put more stickers on the RV map!

To this point, our favorite sites have been Old Town Albuquerque, the Cadillac Ranch spot near Amarillo (pure Americana kitsch) , Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the Route 66 Museum and the historical museum in Tucumcari, and the RV Museum near Amarillo.

Surprisingly to me, a full week after Labor Day the RV parks are mostly full. For some reason I thought things would start to quiet down by mid-September, but that is not the case. RVers don't have to follow a calendar, something I should have realized. We booked ahead for this first leg of the journey, so there have been no problems. It will be interesting to see whether there are any changes in occupancy by October. 

Both Betty and I brought along at least half a dozen projects each, so our free time has been busy. We have had the chance to discuss some things we want to do to the house when we get home, but have yet to reach a firm conclusion about the future of our RV adventures. At this point I'd guess we will modify and continue with our current motorhome, but the road ahead is still quite long and could bring changes to our thoughts.

We cooked and froze 15 meals ahead of time. They completely filled the RV freezer.  So far, less than half are gone. But, tomorrow means grocery shopping for fresh produce, fruit, and bread.

While we are shopping or driving, enjoy some photos from the road:

First night in Heber, AZ

Bailey can read!

A selfie!

A giant game of chess?

No more riding on this saddle
Gazebo in Old Town Albuquerque

Grounds of San Felipe de Neri Church

Gives Betty an idea for our backyard!

All sorts of galleries in old town Albuquerque

Rout 66 Museum in Tucumcari...notice the wall of photos

the juxtaposition of modern technology and  an old Rt. 66 gas station

Luckily, this store outside Tucumcari was closed! Way too much stuff
Route 66 Cadillac Ranch..Yes, 10 cars

Palo Duro State Park

Yes, a trailer doggie house!

From the Robin Williams Movie, RV

A customized teardrop trailer

Complete with kitchen

A dozen vintage trailers and twice that many motorcycles

Not bad for 9 days!

September 12, 2016

Downsizing To a Forever Home

One of the bloggers I enjoy following is Barbara Hammond. Zero to 60 and beyond is a lively chronicle of her retirement journey.  More than that, it is a place she shares details of her turbulent and difficult childhood, a journey soon to be turned into a book.

I look forward to her thoughts and beautiful photos on Facebook.  At one point I discovered that she and I actually worked at the same time for competing radio stations in Pittsburgh, she in sales and me in program consulting. Small world!

After too many moves to catalogue, she and her husband made a dream come true: they moved from the big city to a small seaside resort town at the southern tip of New Jersey. I asked if she would give us an overview of what that journey looked like and some of the adjustments she had to make to downsize to a smaller town.

"I didn’t see an ocean until I was seventeen. I had lived on the edge of Lake Erie my entire life. It wasn’t for lack of moving that I hadn’t reached the outer edges of the country. I attended fourteen schools in twelve years which required lots of packing up and moving and starting over, but never far.

My first airline flight was to Boston with my future husband to visit his family for Easter in 1968. It was exciting and eye-opening for me to observe a family right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, if you compared them to mine. Six months later we were married. 

Dave, my husband, had gone into the same retail company his father worked for. The company had been good to his dad and he felt it would be solid ground to plant his flag there for our family. 

Our first stop was Scarsdale, NY. Dave was an assistant manager in a five and dime, in the most expensive housing area in the Continental U.S. it was challenging, to say the least. We managed to find a small garden apartment one town over. Thanks to S&H Green Stamps my mother-in-law sent us religiously and donated pieces of furniture from friends and family we got by.

Dave was transferred annually in the beginning. We moved ten times in ten years. No small feat with two small children. We were all over the East Coast but, Philadelphia was our favorite place and that’s when Ocean City, NJ became our family vacation destination. They say your first shore town is the one you always go back to. That was definitely true for us. We drove to OC, from wherever we were, for two weeks every summer.

We moved back to the Philly suburbs in the mid-'90’s and stayed in one house for six years. When the kids were grown and flown we were over the big house so we decided to move to the city. We enjoyed city life and started renting a place in Ocean City every summer for the season. I was determined to buy a summer home there though Dave was sure it couldn’t happen.

One day the Realtor I had been working with for years called and said, “Barbara, it’s your lucky day!” 

“How’s that, Sam?” I asked.

“Somebody died.”

Well, I hadn’t wished that to be the way we would find our new home but, I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It was a duplex, which meant we could rent one unit while enjoying summers in the other.

We soon discovered it wasn’t all that fun being the landlord. When you live upstairs renters think you are their concierge. People complained when it was raining and one woman was upset because there was sand in the windowsills (remember, this was at the beach!) We found out we could condo the building and sell the downstairs. It was the perfect solution.

When Dave retired we spent more time at the shore. The kids visited less due to sports and school activities. Dave’s dad, who had his own apartment in our city house, went into senior housing and we started discussing ‘what next’.

In the spring of 2014 we spent a lovely day in Cape May, which we did several times a year, and on the way back to OC I said, “Why don’t we sell both houses and move to Cape May?” Dave took about ten seconds to say, “I like it!”

We immediately put the wheels in motion. Our house in the city sold in three days. That’s a world record for us and we saw it as a sign. The OC house took most of the summer but, we needed the time because we hadn’t found ‘our’ house in Cape May, yet.

By the end of the summer, the perfect house appeared in West Cape May. It was destined to be ours and by mid-September it was. We immediately jumped into doing renovations and in a couple of months it really was ‘ours’.

We can walk or ride bikes to the beach, or the bay, to downtown Cape May and to Cape May Point. It feels like living in the country at the beach. We inherited a fabulous garden and Dave loves tending it. I enjoy cutting flowers to fill the house. The dogs have a picket fenced yard to play in and lots of windows to nap in front of while they pretend to guard us.

The down side, if there really is one, is the nearest Target is 45 minutes away. We do a lot of shopping online now, but probably spend less, so not a bad thing. It’s less than two hours to visit the kids. One is in Philadelphia and the other in Baltimore.

The population changes drastically here from summer to winter. The average in summer is 50,000 and drops to 4,000 in winter. You have to carefully pick the days and times you want to grocery shop during the season, for sure. But, once you figure it out it’s not a big deal.

Ocean City was not a year ‘round option for us because there is really no life there in the winter. The island is long and spread out with no concentration of population in winter. It’s a summer resort town. 

Cape May is more compact and there is plenty going on year ‘round. There’s a lively music scene here plus a Fall and Spring Jazz Festival. There are great restaurants, too. But, we did learn that by October it becomes ‘Cape Maybe’ at times. The local pub says it’s open Thursday thru Saturday but ‘maybe’ not. The plumber says he’ll stop by before Friday but, ‘maybe’ not. We’re adapting to what is. 

It’s been two years now and we couldn’t be happier. I think we found our forever home and, I guess the moral of the story is, it’s easier to downsize into retirement when you’ve moved a gazillion times before.

A nice ending to Barbara and Dave's satisfying retirement journey. Trading some convenience for living where you wake up happy each day is the choice the Hammonds made.

Makes all the sense in the world to me!

September 9, 2016

Retirement and Being Single

Being single and retired brings some special issues that face folks attempting to navigate a satisfying retirement journey. As someone who has been married for 40 years I barely remember what it was like to be single, so I can only pass along some general thoughts gleaned from Internet research and life experiences. But, I am sure there is helpful insight and feedback from readers who are in this position. So, I will be asking for your participation in the comments section.

For purposes of this post, I am defining a single person as someone who is living alone and has never been married, or if divorced or widowed, did not receive enough financial support to eliminate most worries. That all goes to say the single person is on his or her own to make retirement work.

Single Person Disadvantages

single retired man
Research shows that a single retired person tends to save less for retirement than a married couple. That makes common sense. With the majority of married couples today being two income households, a single person is at a disadvantage. With only one income, all expenses and investments must be funded from that one source. Since the amount invested tends to be lower there is less ability for investments to use the power of compounding  to grow over time.

If there is a financial setback, either through something like the 2008 recession, an investment that goes bad, or an unexpected emergency, there is only one person to cover the costs.

What if a single person becomes seriously ill, disabled, or needs help during the recovery period after an injury or sickness? This could trigger an expensive problem. If family members or friends can't provide the assistance, then in-home nursing care may be required. Even something as simple as transportation to doctor appointments or hospital checkups could mean expensive taxi or medical transport services. To protect from a devastating blow to one's savings, expensive long term care insurance may become necessary.

The tax laws favor married couples. Even if living together two single people will pay substantially more in taxes than two people living together who are married.

Some Positives of Singleness

single retired femaleOn the flip side, a single person can invest, budget, and spend as he or she sees fit. There is no need to compromise or accept another person's approach to money management, an approach with which you may disagree.

As a single retiree, you don't have to worry about a partner who is a spendthrift. and believes money (real or borrowed) is meant to  simply enjoy. Retirement planning for that person might mean "it will all work out." You know it won't.

The world is actually becoming much more "single." 126 million Americans are single, and 35 million of them live alone. For the first time in our country's history, there are more single adults than married ones.

Four years ago the PBS website, Next Avenue  published an excellent overview of the subject of being retired and alone. Click on the link to learn more. 

Your Turn

So, now I would like turn this post over to you. If you are single and moving toward retirement, or are already retired, we need you input:

1) What are your biggest worries and concerns ?
2) What do you plan and budget for that your married friends don't?
3) What do you do about housing..own? rent? roommates?
4) How have you planned for major medical problems as you age?

If you are married but have single friends, what fears do they share with you?

This is an important subject that I can only start the ball rolling. I'm looking forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Want to learn more?

How to Survive and Thrive as a Single Person

How To Retire Single Without Being Isolated

September 6, 2016

Building Your Next Adventure

Yesterday, Betty, our dog, Bailey, and I left on our RV trip. We will cover over 5,000 miles while driving through 11 different states. We will meet up with family and friends, one of whom we haven't seen in 40 years. We will spend time with folks I have only met through blogging. 

Already this year we have had a tremendous week with friends at the Palm Springs Film Festival and taken our first Alaskan cruise. We have been to Flagstaff for cool weather and a cute B &B experience. We rented a house three blocks from the beach in San Diego for a fabulous week of family experiences. We discovered a great getaway place; Silver City, NM. In early December it will be back to Disneyland with the grandkids.

Now, a long RV trip. It has been a busy year. But, there are things we give up. We will miss family. Our grandson will have his 10th birthday before we get home. Our youngest daughter will be packing up for a move to a different part of the Phoenix area. A lot of life will have happened at home that we won't experience.

That is a tradeoff we are willing to take. The time we spend on the road, seeing new places, gathering new experiences, taking (thousands of) photos, and spending it together in very close proximity, 24 hours a day for 7 or 8  weeks is time we value. The reality is our health is fine now, but won't be forever. When I am no longer comfortable steering 15,000 pounds of metal and fiberglass down the road is when we park the motorhome for good. So, we burn up the miles while we can.

All of this is to get your travel and creative juices flowing.  It seems appropriate to ask you to think of what your next adventure in your satisfying retirement might be. Do you have plans, a road map, a dream that waits to be fulfilled?

Importantly, the scope and cost of that great adventure doesn't have to break your budget. Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. What Betty and I have been able to experience this year is due in large part to the financial cushion from my parents' estate. In a "normal" year, we would not have had the freedom in our budget to do nearly as much.  

What qualifies as as an adventure? Certainly a trip to Europe or Hawaii would make the list. A cruise, a long RV trip, a road trip to visit family in some other state. But, what about adventures that take less money and less time away? I will suggest a few, and then ask you to add to the list. You may give somebody an idea or the motivation to turn your comment into their next great adventure. 

Most of us live within driving distance of a National Park, National Monument, or National Historical site. This year is the 100th birthday of our National Park Service. What better time to pull out a map and spend a few days visiting these tremendous examples of what makes America so beautiful. If you are over 62, the Senior Pass is the best bargain in the country. For $10 you get a lifetime of free admission to over 2,000 Federally managed sites.

Pretend you are tourist to your home state. Pick a section you haven't been to, and go. Do some Internet research to find out what tourists do, and then play along. I use Trip Advisor as a tremendous resource to point me toward things to see in each town we visit.

Would you ever consider a long distance bus trip? Modern coaches have WiFi, movies, and bathrooms. The fares are low and the chance to meet interesting characters is pretty high. How about Amtrak? It has problems with schedules and equipment, but long distance train travel is a very special way to experience the country. 

Volunteer at a a National Park or Historical site for the season. Workkamp at an RV park to earn money while you enjoy nature up close and personal. Volunteer at a local concert hall or kid's museum. Go back to school for that degree in law or English Literature or nursing that you have always dreamed about. At our age, attending classes, reading, writing, and studying at a college level is quite an adventure!

Set aside a week or two, pick a general direction, and just jump in the car and go. Let your whims, sights, and interests determine the route. When your time is half over, turn around and come home a different way. Are you a hiker or biker? Plot a route that stretches your limits and do it.

The opportunity to build an adventure into your life is limited by your imagination and willingness to take a bit of a risk. Budget  plays a role but don't let that be an excuse. Family responsibilities may limit, but don't eliminate, what you can do. 

Tell us...what is your next adventure? Can we tag along?